For Marietta High grad, patriotism as new citizen provides flight plan

Even before Juanita Londono was officially a citizen of this country, she knew she wanted to serve it.

The recent Marietta High School graduate was born in Colombia and moved here with her mother and her brother when she was about 9. After pursuing citizenship for years, she took the oath in 2013.

“I don’t remember much of Colombia,” she said. “This is my home and I finally felt really part of it.”

In just a few weeks, Londono, 18, will start her path to become part of the nation’s defense system, when she reports for duty at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado. Her goal is to serve with the U.S. Air Force in a diplomatic capacity.

“I do want to fly,” she said. “I want to learn how to fly planes and helicopters, but that’s not what I want to do as a profession. I feel like that’s too much of an individual thing to do, and I like working with people.”

Her affinity for teamwork was much in evidence during her time at Marietta High School. The International Baccalaureate graduate was a member of the National Honor Society, the Math Honor Society, the Beta Club and the Kitty Hawk Honor Society and was a varsity cross country and track athlete while maintaining an impressive GPA.

“Juanita is an incredible young woman and the embodiment of the American story,” said Marietta High School principal Leigh Colburn. “She is resilient, optimistic, hardworking, enthusiastic, uncommonly patriotic, and intensely grateful to be an American citizen. She is a first-generation American living through the first chapters of what I know will be a success story.”

Colburn attended Londono’s citizenship ceremony.

“I have rarely seen a countenance that more clearly and simultaneously projected joy, pride and a sense of belonging,” Colburn said. “She has not only embraced the spirit and opportunity within our high school, she has embraced the pride and culture of our country.”

Londono’s teachers couldn’t say enough about her in letters recommending her to the academy.

“Juanita is one of the hardest working students I have ever taught,” wrote Amanda Wicks, her International Baccalaureate math teacher. “She will work tirelessly until she understands a concept completely. She has this tenacity that not many students seem to possess.”

“She shows no trepidation as she achieves her goals because she always works at the best of her abilities,” wrote Jon Epstein, her International Baccalaureate English teacher.

Air Force Junior ROTC instructor Lt. Col. James T. Wilson praised her leadership abilities.

“She definitely represents all the ideals exemplified in successful military officers and is already demonstrating the Air Force core values of integrity first, excellence, and service before self,” he wrote.

Londono’s family moved here, where other relatives already had legally immigrated, because they felt unsafe in her native country. From the beginning, the United States of America struck her as a place where she could be and do anything.

“Being an American means being able to follow what you want to do and take advantage of all the opportunities that you get,” she said. “Not every country offers as many opportunities. What I love about this country is you get to chase your own dreams. If you don’t get to where you want to be, it’s kind of your own fault.”

While at Marietta High School, she was active in Air Force Junior ROTC, where one of her favorite daily activities was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We say it with meaning,” she said. “We emphasize every single word. This is a great country.”

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